AIR quality, recycling and a new office environmental protection are some of the actions in the new ‘far-reaching’ Environment Bill that has been announced today.
For the first time, the enhanced Bill will create new powers to stop the exports of polluting plastic waste to developing countries, which could prevent harmful waste from being shipped out of sight while boosting the UK’s domestic recycling system.
More broadly, the Bill will enshrine environmental principles in law and introduce measures to improve air and water quality, tackle plastic pollution and restore habitats for plants and wildlife.
Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers commented on the news: “We are facing climate change and our precious natural environment is under threat. We need to take decisive action.
“We have set out our pitch to be a world leader on the environment as we leave the EU and the Environment Bill is a crucial part of achieving this aim.
“It sets a gold standard for improving air quality, protecting nature, increasing recycling and cutting down on plastic waste.
“This will build on the UK’s strong track record as the first major economy to commit to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and will drive further action in this super year for the environment, culminating in the UK welcoming the world to the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in November in Glasgow.”
The Bill will include a new commitment to review the biggest developments in environmental legislation from around the world every other year and the findings are used in considering the UK’s own environmental plans.
This will work alongside a requirement for current and future Ministers to make a statement to Parliament identifying environmental impacts of all new environmental primary legislation.
Legislation will also create legally-binding environmental improvement targets.
A new independent Office for Environmental Protection will be established to scrutinise environmental policy and law, investigate complaints and take enforcement action against public authorities if necessary.
The office’s powers will cover all climate change legislation and hold the government to account on its commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
This ambition will be supported by championing nature-based solutions, helping to demonstrate our commitment to tackle climate change.
The Bill places the ambition on the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan on a statutory footing and creates powers to enhance nature and habitats and combat the devastating effects of plastics on our natural environment.
Introducing charges for a number of single use plastic items will build on the success of the government’s 5p plastic bag charge, which has cut sales from the biggest supermarkets by 90% since 2015.
The Bill, included in December’s Queen’s Speech and introduced today, will:
- ensure the environment is ‘at the heart of all government policy-making‘ and that this government – and future governments – are held to account if they fail to uphold their environmental duties, including meeting net-zero by 2050 and wider long-term legally binding targets on biodiversity, air quality, water, and resource efficiency and waste management that are established under the Bill. And, as announced for the first time today, the government will conduct a review every two years of significant developments in international legislation on the environment to ensure the government keep abreast of developments in driving forward our environmental protection legislation. The government will publish this review and ensure its findings are factored into their Environmental Improvement Plan and environmental target setting process, both of which will be enshrined in law.
- transform the way we manage our waste – through powers that enable us to require producers to take more responsibility for the products and materials they place on the market, including when they become waste, introducing a consistent approach to recycling, tackling waste crime, creating powers to introduce bottle deposit return schemes and having more effective litter enforcement. A power to stop the export of polluting plastic waste to less developed countries will ensure we deal with more of our waste at home and lighten our footprint on the planet. We will consult with industry, NGOs, and local authorities on specific restrictions or prohibitions. The Bill will also create powers to introduce new charges for single use plastic items to minimise their use and incentivising reusable alternatives to reduce their environmental impact.
- improve air quality – by introducing measures to reduce pollution so children and young people can live longer healthier lives. We are committing to set an ambitious, legally-binding target to reduce fine particulate matter, the pollutant of greatest harm to human health. In addition, this Bill will ensure that local authorities have a clear framework for tackling air pollution and simple to use powers to address pollution in their areas. The government will also be empowered to mandate manufacturers to recall vehicles and machinery when they do not meet the relevant environmental standards.
- restore and enhance nature – through ‘biodiversity net gain’ the government seeks to ensure that new houses build are delivered in a way which protects and enhances nature, helping to deliver thriving natural spaces for local communities. It seeks to lay the foundation for the Nature Recovery Network to deliver long lasting action for nature by establishing Local Nature Recovery Strategies, strengthening the duty on public authorities to enhance biodiversity and giving communities a greater say in the management of street trees. They are also legislating for conservation covenants to improve long term conservation management.
- protect precious water resources – by increasing sustainable water management through securing long-term, resilient water and wastewater services in the face of a changing climate. Powers to direct water companies to work together to meet current and future demand for water will make planning more robust.
The Bill was included in December’s Queen’s Speech.